Wednesday, October 12, 2016

NGD: I'll have a new gear Friday post soon!!!

That's right... today is a big day. My Dave Murray signature Fender Strat shows up today. As you may have heard here already, I'm playing the part of Dave in a new Maiden tribute band, so I obviously needed the "correct" guitar. It'll arrive today, so after I give it a full shakedown, I'll be sure to upload some audio and maybe even some video with it.

NGD is always exciting!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Time off the blog and behind the guitar

In case you haven't noticed, I've been taking some time away from the keyboard to get fully ready for the Maiden band. I did audition with another band on bass last week, and they seemed pretty happy with my playing. However, I'm just looking for something fun to supplement the Maiden band since it feels like something that will be spread out (as in only once every month at the most) so we don't saturate the market.

So, with that said, I'm toying around with some songs that I think I can front reasonably well and have a buddy wants to play bass on and another buddy wants to play drums on. I've never done the power trio thing, but I think it could be enjoyable for a while. If something else comes along that catches my interest, I'll see where it goes. But for now, I've got those two plus the weekly Sunday morning performance with the praise band.

Three seems about right for now, and if the rumors come true, we may be busy driving around with the Maiden deal. I'll probably hold steady at these three so I don't spread myself too thin, at least until I don't have to think about anything Dave plays in the slightest and know most of their tunes. Then I may look harder into a fourth... or maybe another fun tribute.

What are you most interested to hear? Maiden? Power Trio? Praise Band? Leave a comment and I'll see about getting some audio / video posted of whatever people are requesting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Keeping extremely busy

As you can guess, learning every Maiden tune ever recorded has been keeping me quite busy. I'm enjoying the challenge of it as well as some of the new theory I've picked out of their music.

Yes, I said new theory. Not new as in "OMG, nobody has ever seen this before", but new as in I hadn't used certain chord progressions with 8ths and 6ths together in that manner before. I'm certainly enjoying the different approach to things.

Probably the toughest part, though, is the shared solos. Moving one guy from lead to rhythm without missing a beat on the rhythm or the lead is tricky to say the least. Again, I'm up for the challenge, but it's certainly something I haven't tried in the past.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm intrigued by every tune I play and look forward to what I can learn in the next song on the album... and then the next album... and the next... playing with a purpose is good.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gear Friday: Gretsch Electromatic

It had to happen at some point, right? I had to get a Gretsch. Well, I decided to start with an Electromatic and go from there, but it still says Gretsch.

It's certainly a pretty headstock, but I'm not real crazy about the way the strings are bent out from the center. This adds unnecessary tension to those middle few strings, but perhaps that's the point. That means those are less likely to bend when you're playing "normal". I suppose that could keep it more in tune when playing chords, but I've never heard anyone state that as being the reason. I just know I generally prefer straight paths so I can bend them as I want to with minimal effort.

As for the body, it's pretty. The bigsby took a bit to get used to. No divebombs, but a nice vibrato is no problem.

So what do I like about this one? It's certainly a different tone than most of my others. Between the weaker output from the pickups and the airy sound from the semi-hollow, it's a much different sound than most of my electrics. I also like the neck feel for playing chords, especially open chords. It's not a shred monster, but that's not what it was designed to be.

What don't I like about it? The strings like to fall off the saddles if I toy with the bigsby and it gets feedback really easily. Feedback is a common hollow problem, but the saddle issues drive me nuts. I've tried doing a little adjusting, but it just doesn't quite stay stable.

Overall, I like this one for recording, it would be fine in church, but most live settings I'll be grabbing something else. Good thing I have a few to choose from.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tribute Bands: Love 'em, hate 'em, or otherwise?

Nothing beats seeing an amazing band. What do you do if they don't tour your area? Well, for many, it's checking out a tribute.

While it can't beat the real thing, or in some cases it does (deceased, etc.), a tribute can be a fun experience all in its own. Many times, these bands get extremely creative with stage props, song selection, audience participation or even making fun of how dorky they feel acting like someone else.

The first tributes I remember seeing were Elvis impersonators. Who doesn't love seeing a pretend Elvis shaking his hips and singing "Ain't nothin' but a hound dog"??? Ok, so many of us. But, for a true Elvis fan, that's one of the greatest things you can imagine, or one of the worst, or somewhere in between. It all depends on a few factors.

  1. How well did they respect the memories you have of the artist / band? A great tribute not only brings back memories, but enhances / creates new ones.
  2. How well did they perform the songs? They should sound pretty close to the original and not venture into that "unrecognizable" territory.
  3. How well did they perform like said band. Sure, everyone will have their own take on this, but there should be something saying "We're performing as if we are ____" and not just a bunch of guys playing a set or two of covers all from one band.
  4. Are they having fun? Nobody wants to watch a bunch of people on stage that look miserable, so having fun as the band they're imitating is a must.

As you can tell, there are a lot of reasons to love / hate tributes. So what do the bands get out of performing as someone else?

  1. Easy access to a fan base. If you tell people you're a tribute for ____, fans for that band are immediately interested. Heck, even people who aren't necessarily fans can become interested if they have some connection to that band.
  2. Decent pay. That's right, I brought up money. Tributes put a lot of time and effort into becoming the band they want to emulate, and the result should be a monetary reward. If that's not the case, they're doing it wrong.
  3. Ego trips. If you've seen Total Recall (the original, as the tribute to that movie wasn't nearly as good), then you may remember when they said Arnold's character was going on an ego trip - a vacation from himself. Performing as someone else is very similar.
  4. Ability to do several. Unless you're a wildly successful tribute that's touring (Mini Kiss comes to mind), you're probably going to be geographically limited and realistically date limited. If there's an AC/DC tribute performing every weekend, then it becomes stale in a hurry and the fan base runs out. Scarcity is a secret ingredient here, and doing several tributes with your band mates can fill in those performance gaps.
So, why am I talking about tributes so much? If you guessed I'm looking at one, you're right. I am looking at a Maiden tribute right now, with the potential for me to be playing lead guitar. Guess I better get fitted for my Eddie mask. This could either be great, or make you Run For The Hills.

Monday, September 12, 2016

I'm one of the 6...

I've been told this several times recently... I'm one of the six. Worse yet, I'm #1 on that list. I certainly find myself bored at times in bands. I most definitely want to keep progressing and hate taking it easy and just getting along. Lack of improvement from week to week drives me crazy. If I'm not better than I was last week, I'll be working 2x as hard the coming week to get it right. And then, I get let down by those around me quite regularly.

I guess that's why I have so much trouble sticking with a band... I don't see the same level of dedication and it drives me nuts. Anyway... on to the next adventure.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Gear Friday: Carvin BX1500

To finish off my new, lighter bass rig, I needed a new, lighter bass head. Enter the Carvin BX1500.

Weighing in at right around 10 lbs, it is less than 1/3 the weight of my previous head. I dropped the Line 6 Bass Pod Pro into a rack bag with it (interestingly enough, the rack bag weighs more than both of those pieces of equipment combined) so I'd have a tuner and wireless access to changing eq and tone settings using my Guitar Wing.

But, how does the amp itself sound?

I'm assuming that's the only reason you'd be reading this. To be honest, it's loud and clean. It's tough to dial in a growl with this amp (the Line 6 is handy for that now), but it's not really meant to do that. It's raw, clean power. Just how a bass amp should be in my mind.

As for the eq section, I find that it has a lot of static if I don't drop a lot of the highs. It doesn't sound dark if I drop them out, but it sure sounds bright if I leave them in. This changes if I use a passive bass, though. It might just be the way I've EQ'd the bass itself, but I can adjust it easily by either dropping the highs knob or leaving it in place and adjusting between the two basses by turning the graphic eq on and off. I find that trick to be really, really cool.

One other thing that really makes it nice is that I have a switch on the front panel to turn the effects loop on and off. This may not seem like much, but when a friend comes over to practice, I can turn off the Line 6 so they don't have to mess with that and just get a great clean tone. If I want to add something in, flip a switch and choose a patch. That's an awesome feature that my other amps had been lacking. I'd imagine I'll find myself using that quite a bit on stage depending on the song.

Overall, this amp meets my needs since I use outboard effects. If I wanted to dial in some grit in the amp, this would have been a terrible choice. But, with how it's set up and how I use my gear, it's just what I wanted. A bit of reverb, perhaps some chorus, a hint of drive on occasion and we've got some great tones. And those are all things that Line 6 does fairly well. I don't need all the amp modeling. I'll stick to just the effects, thanks. But power, that's totally covered by the Carvin.

Oh, and just for grins, I did hook up my Acoustic 4x10 and 1x15 along with the Markbass 2x10. Yes, this has plenty of power for all of that, and with the bi-amp mode, I've been running just the lows to the 1x15 and the mids and highs to the 2x10. Makes for a lot of interesting setup possibilities.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Audition results

Last week, I mentioned I had another audition. It went fine, I suppose. I was asked to come back next week and they were all pretty excited to have "low end" in their sound again.

That's the good stuff. Now for the not so good.

I wasn't a fan of anything they were playing. For me to really be happy in a band, I need to first off be a fan. It just wasn't easy to listen to with the songs changing keys from D minor to F minor to Eb minor to C# minor to E minor to C minor all in the same song. Yes, that's everything chromatically from C to F in one song done as key changes. The rhythm guitar and keys changed that much, but the lead seemed to be stuck in the same scale the whole day.

I didn't feel any of it as a result. I admit, I sometimes write stuff that's sketchy theory wise, but it's usually for a reason (adding some tension, transitioning, etc.) and not just because we had played four bars in one key already so it was time to change. Mark taught me well not to change just for the sake of change, and that the majority of changes should stay in the same key but perhaps just a quick change of root (and mode) to stay in the same scale but give it some sonic difference.

It was loud. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people think that hearing the drums in a practice setting means everyone else in the band is too quiet. This was a small practice room at Guitar Center, and my ears are still ringing a couple days later.

GC's supplied bass amp sucked. Yes, it was an Acoustic head with a decent 8x10 cab, but it sounded as if something was blown. No matter how low I turned the gain while plugged into the side of the head labeled "active" instead of "passive", it would still distort badly, but usually as the sound was fading out and not as it was at it's peak. Specific notes were the worst offenders (C# & F#), but lower volumes on any of the notes could cause problems. I guess that's fine if you don't play with any dynamics, but that leads to my next point.

There were no dynamics. It was all just one volume... super loud. I got the whole thing recorded with my phone and an external mic that could handle the input levels, but looking at the waveform it looked like one of those nasty, super compressed mastered tracks. Loudness wars for sure, but not in a good way.

Anyway, my final assessment is that I'm probably not looking for what they have going. Perhaps I'm too picky, but I think I've earned the right to be picky to some extent. I've paid my dues playing with bands that I wasn't totally happy with, so I'm going to wait for the right band this time - or start the right band - so I'm not wasting more years with people and bands that don't meet my expectations.

Friday, September 02, 2016

Gear Friday: Percussion Toys

Once again, I fell into a trap. I saw something fun and just had to have it.

While I don't have a specific use, I believe these will be great on some of the songs I'm recording recently. I'm doing one with keys, a bit of guitar, and a cello, so some congas seem like they'll be a great addition to that mix. Full drum set seems like it could be overkill for a pretty simple song.

The more I toy around with them, the more ideas I get. Sometimes, it's good to think outside of the "norm".

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Another audition

This weekend, I'm going to audition for a prog rock band. They've actually been out playing shows without a bass player, just as 2 guitars, drums and keys. The whole thing is instrumental, so it seems like it could probably use a little help on the low end. They book practice time at the local Guitar Center, so I'll be meeting them there.

This brings up a couple of interesting things, though.

First off, how do you just walk into a prog band and start playing?

Secondly, if you don't have means for a decent recording, how do you get the songs down tight with minimal practice time at rented rehearsal space?

I'll know the answers to these and other mind boggling questions soon. Should be an interesting experience in any event.